This Month in Space: December
Here on Florida’s Space Coast, our version of a white Christmas is more likely to involve white sandy beaches than it is white snow. However, that never gets in the way of our holiday cheer. With all of the holiday events that took place this past month, it was probably hard to keep up with all of the space events going on.
Fear not, we’ve got you covered with some of December’s biggest space news.
NASA Invites Basketball Star Steph Curry to See Moon-Landing Evidence
Golden State Warriors player Stephen Curry scored himself a free ticket to the Johnson Space Center in Houston after expressing doubt that Americans ever reached the moon in the 1960s and 1970s.
In early December, Curry guest appeared on Winging It, a basketball-centric podcast, where he claimed to support the Apollo moon landing conspiracies. Curry continued by name dropping film director Stanley Kubrick and the common conspiracy theory that involves Kubrick staging the television coverage of the Apollo 11’s moon landing.
NASA responded by inviting the Warriors player to the lunar lab to show him evidence of the moon landings. “We’d love for Mr. Curry to tour the lunar lab at our Johnson Space Center…during his visit he can see firsthand what we did 50 years ago,” a NASA spokesperson told The New York Times.
Although Curry has not formally accepted NASA’s invitation he did state that he plans on having conversations with some Ex-NASA astronauts. The Warriors will be in Houston to play the Rockets in March, we’ll find out then if Curry takes NASA up on the offer.
Mike Pence Visited Cape Canaveral for GPS III Launch
Vice President Mike Pence visited Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on December 18 to witness the launch of the first Air Force Global Positioning System 3 satellite. The GPS III satellite was built by Lockheed Martin and was launched by a new SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The launch was scrubbed for that day and rescheduled for December 23.
The next generation space satellite is nicknamed Vespucci after the explorer who discovered the Americas, and it will have three times better accuracy than any current satellite available.
The GPS III is the first in a series of satellites that will deliver innovative and resilient capabilities to modernize the Air Force’s GPS arsenal. Vice President Pence stated that this launch was “an important step forward as we seek to secure American leadership in space.”
A Telescope Named After a Cookie Snaps its First Photo
A new telescope project based out of the European Southern Observatory, SPECULOOS, recently snapped its spectacular first image of the night sky. SPECULOOS shares its name with spiced biscuit cookies that hail from the project’s lead investigator, Michaël Gillon’s, home country of Belgium.
SPECULOOS, an abbreviation for Search for Habitable Planets Eclipsing Ultra-Cool Stars, will play an instrumental part in the search for Earth-sized exoplanets that carry the potential to inhabit life.
The image captured by SPECULOOS is of the Carina Nebula, one of the stellar nurseries where scientists hope the telescope will find small, ultra-cool stars capable of sustaining life.
Saturn Moons Align to Create a Snowman
A photo of two of Saturn moons named Rhea and Dione creating what appears to be a snowman was released from the now deceased Cassini Saturn orbiter this month — just in time for the holidays.
Although in the photo Dione and Rhea appear to be roughly the same size, in reality, Rhea is 949 miles in diameter, while Dione has a diameter of 696 miles. They only appear to be similar sizes because of the perspective of which we see them.
While Rhea is Saturn’s second largest moon, Dione is a higher subject of interest for scientists because it is believed to hold a subsurface ocean of liquid water.
Virgin Galactic Tourism Rocket Ship Reaches Space
Commercial spaceflight company Virgin Galactic conducted a test flight that climbed more than 50 miles above the Mojave Desert, reaching the “boundary of space.”
This brings Virgin Galactic one step closer to reaching its goal of making commercial space tourism a reality.
Founder Richard Branson said Virgin Galactic will be conducting more test flights in 2019 and if they continue to go as well as this past test flight, he will take the first ride before the public gets a chance to.
The two test pilots, Mark “Forger” Stucky and former NASA astronaut Rick “CJ” Sturckow, will be awarded commercial astronaut wings.
More than 600 people have already paid the company up to $250,000 for rides that include several minutes of weightlessness and a space-view of the Earth. Virgin Galactic hopes to send its first commercial passengers in late 2019.
SpaceX Rocket Misses Landing Pad, Falls into the Ocean
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket capsule missed its intended target at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and landed into Space Coast waters after dropping off its payload off at the International Space Station in early December.
Tweets from SpaceX CEO Elon Musk indicate that the rocket’s grid fin hydraulic pump stalled which resulted in the booster being set off course. The rocket is transmitting data and appears to be undamaged. According to Musk, the company might use it for an internal SpaceX mission.
SpaceX is currently the only company who attempts to land their rocket boosters. Musk believes that being able to land and reuse the rocket boosters is a key part of making the human race a “multi-planetary” species.
Keep up with all upcoming Space Coast launch dates by regularly checking our launch schedule.